Celestron’s AstroMaster series of telescopes advertises itself as a quality series of beginner telescopes and as a step up from the dreaded PowerSeeker line. However, the AstroMaster 130EQ, while certainly a functional beginner’s telescope, is probably one that should be avoided. Let’s go into why.
The AstroMaster 130EQ is a 130mm f/5 Newtonian, identical to Celestron’s more expensive Omni and NexStar SLT 130mm telescopes as well as the venerable Astronomers Without Borders OneSky and other 130mm tabletop Newtonians. However, trouble has arisen with the 130EQ scopes lately.
As part of an effort to reduce costs and maximize profit, Celestron seems to be putting spherical primary mirrors in at least some AstroMaster 130EQ units. These mirrors cannot focus light correctly (a proper Newtonian telescope primary uses a parabolic mirror), especially at such a short focal length, and thus they make the telescope unusable.
Units sold at big-box stores seem to be the most commonly afflicted with spherical mirrors, but it is possible from Amazon or indeed any other vendor. This alone is an immediate disqualification from me recommending it, as no reputable telescope should have any chance of being sold with an unusable primary mirror.
The AstroMaster 130EQ’s focuser is a standard 1.25” rack and pinion unit, with nice rubberized knobs. It works well for the price.
The 130EQ, like all AstroMaster Newtonians, comes with a 20mm erecting eyepiece identical to the one supplied with Celestron’s PowerSeeker scopes – because they’re advertised as usable for terrestrial viewing, as if anyone would use an equatorial Newtonian for that. It is plastic, has a narrow field of view, and isn’t very sharp. It probably costs Celestron at most a dollar to make these eyepieces.
The 10mm Kellner supplied for medium power with the 130EQ works well, and I have no complaints other than that it is a relatively inexpensive eyepiece that a 9mm Plossl or “gold-line” will quickly dispense with – the field will be wider and sharper with one of said eyepieces.
Considering that many decent beginner’s scopes in the 130EQ’s price range come with real Plossl eyepieces made out of metal, I really struggle to understand why Celestron still supplies the cheap erecting 20mm eyepiece and a mediocre 10mm Kellner with scopes like the AstroMaster line.
The Celestron AstroMasters used to come with a strangely designed, cheap built-in, non-removable red-dot finder which had a nice switch and glass window, but suffered from alignment problems. Newer AstroMasters have a standard, run-of-the-mill red dot finder attached with a strange plastic jig. I find the placement a little odd, but it is actually more comfortable to reach than the standard location of finders on a lot of telescopes.
Tube Rings & Dovetail
The AstroMaster 130EQ comes with tube rings which are lined with felt, and one has a small screw that allows you to piggyback a DSLR on top – if the mount is motorized with Celestron’s Logic Drive, it will work well enough for wide-field astrophotography.
Unfortunately the rings are coupled to a very narrow dovetail, which combined with the odd (and in my opinion, ugly) plastic castings on the optical tube means that you may have difficulty balancing the telescope, since there is very narrow range available to slide the tube in the rings or the dovetail on the mount saddle.
The dovetail does in theory allow one to put the AstroMaster 130 optical tube on another mount, but the dodgy optics and low price of the scope makes this pointless.
The 130EQ comes on a lightweight German equatorial mount that Celestron calls the CG-3. While not the heaviest duty thing you can buy, the mount works well enough for the 130mm f/5 OTA and it should work okay with a DSLR camera piggybacked on top.
German equatorial mounts like the CG-3 are not the most comfortable ergonomically with a Newtonian telescope – another thing to consider. The eyepiece can wind up in some odd positions. The 130EQ optical tube can be rotated in its rings to adjust the position of the eyepiece, but you could easily throw off the balance and/or skew the pointing of the telescope in the process of doing so.
The CG-3 comes with flexible slow motion controls for adjustments on both axes. However, you’ll need to switch the right ascension cable from one side of the mount to the other depending on where you’re looking in the sky. The mount has no polar scope, but for a scope meant for visual use and at most simple astrophotography this isn’t really an issue. The mount does have slow-motion altitude and azimuth adjustments for precise polar alignment.
The CG-3 has a Vixen dovetail saddle so in theory you could put a different optical tube on it, but it wouldn’t really make financial sense to do so under most circumstances.
The CG-3 can be equipped with Celestron’s “Logic Drive” for hands-free tracking. The drive also allows for piggyback astrophotography, but even this will probably strain the mount somewhat.
Neither the mount nor the focuser are heavy duty enough for astrophotography with a DSLR, though webcam planetary imaging is in theory possible with a 3x or 5x Barlow lens coupled to the optical tube. But in practice, you’re really limited to shots with a mobile phone or the like – and this is assuming the mirror is parabolic and not spherical, which is a real gamble.
What's The Bottom Line?
So to summarise this Astromaster 130EQ review, do I like this scope? No. I wouldn’t love it if it didn’t have the whole dodgy mirror quality issue, but the fact that Celestron ships the AstroMaster 130EQ with spherical primary mirrors automatically rules out any kind of approval from me.
Between the price (only a little less than a 6” Dobsonian), the terrible low-power eyepiece, the inconveniences of using a Newtonian on a German equatorial mount, and the fact that Celestron at least sometimes supplies these telescopes with spherical primary mirrors, I do not recommend this telescope under any circumstance. It is better than some of the other junk Celestron sells, but it is still a long way from a decent telescope.